"I really need a son of a bitch"
Nixon’s White House taping system captured a key moment on his path to self-destruction
President Richard M. Nixon’s voice-activated White House taping system captured a key moment on his path to self-destruction. As Nixon convinced himself that the leak of the Pentagon Papers, a classified Defense Department history of Vietnam, was just the first move by a conspiracy that planned to leak his secrets, he resolved to create a counter-conspiracy of his own. In this excerpt, he described his plans to harness the federal government’s investigative powers—including those of the Department of Defense—to gather damaging information on his perceived enemies and then to leak that information to the press. He recalled his successful use of leaks in the 1940s as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee, investigating Soviet spies Alger Hiss and Elizabeth T. Bentley.
To run the operation, he wanted someone like Tom Charles Huston, author of a then-secret plan to expand the government use of break-ins, wiretaps, and mail-opening in the name of fighting domestic terrorism. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, whose agents would have had to do the breaking-in and wiretapping, nixed the Huston plan, to Nixon’s lasting frustration.
Ultimately, the President would create the Special Investigations Unit, known in-house as “the Plumbers,” to gather the damaging information he wanted to leak. The Plumbers’ existence would eventually come to light when two of its members, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, were arrested for planning the Watergate break-in. When another tape capturing Nixon’s criminal attempt to obstruct the investigation of Hunt and Liddy’s prior work for him came to light, he resigned the presidency.
Participants: Richard M. Nixon, H. R. "Bob" Haldeman
Location: Oval Office
Tape: 534-002 C